Comments about developments in the manse garden over the past week have been offered by many, noting the ‘improvement’. The removal of the unsightly weeds and the cleaning up of the externals has provoked interest amongst regular passers-by. Any observer would have to acknowledge the great improvement, with concomitant indications of a property looking more cared for than it has for a little while, yet at the same time recognise that there is no inherent beauty in the way it now looks – removed of all life, denuded of plants and vegetation. Having almost all taken away is being regarded as a step forward. It is now being prepared for a new stage of growth.
The image unfolding in the manse yard reflects much of what we have been learning through the prophet Ezekiel – that the stripping away of the past can be a necessary step towards the future. The people of Israel had to be removed from the familiarity of the temple and its associated worship in order to discover afresh the importance of God’s place amongst them, and to prepare for the work he wants to begin. Sadly, many in Israel failed to see that it was the hand of God at work in this stripping away, lamenting the loss of the familiar, rather than preparing to welcome the new.
A few years ago I stood on the street as I watched as a demolition team reduced the house into which our three children had been born to rubble, I felt a tinge of sadness. It was the house we had lived in the longest, and held many happy memories of life shared together. Yet there was a deeper recognition that the house needed to go – its foundations were crumbling and it was an increasing drain on the church’s resources. It was time to take a few backward steps in order to move forward.
The first visible signs of growth were negative ones. The planning, prayer and evaluation leading up to these signs took place out of sight, gestating over a longer period. It required patience, faith, and a vision of what might be to keep all participants moving forward.
To look for signs of growth calls us to look beyond the immediate – to keep the grand vision in our perspective, to sense where the Spirit of God is stirring at such a time as this, and to patiently plough the ground before us.
June 16, 2002